July 23, 2015
Last week, we discussed the 10 steps in the product development process in general terms. This week we’ll discuss in more detail how we went through these 10 steps when developing our plunger arrival sensor, Cyclops.
When we first looked at developing an arrival sensor, we were told by our customers that there were many arrival sensors already that were “good enough.” We almost didn’t go ahead with the project until we heard that even the best-selling sensors on the market would often miss plungers, false trip and fail on a relatively frequent basis. When asked if producers might pay a bit more if we could eliminate all problems associated with plunger arrival sensors, we received a resounding yes even though it came along with some skepticism.
When we looked at all the arrival sensors that were available, it became apparent that almost all of the operational problems were due to the outdated technology at the core, a magnetic coil. We decided that a fundamental change was required if we wanted to produce a product sensor that was substantially better than any other product in the marketplace. At this stage, we decided to center our product on a magnetometer and microprocessor. This would allow us to do things that no other arrival sensor could do, such as digital filtering, adjustable sensitivity, a wide range of supply voltages, software upgrades and real time monitoring with a PC. These are the things that would eventually set the Cyclops apart from the competition.
For the Cyclops, the newest piece of technology was a magnetometer. A magnetometer measures the ambient magnetic field of the earth. As the plunger passes by the sensor, it should disrupt this field, causing a change in the measurement. It was unknown if there would be enough change in the signal and if we would be able to detect the arrival of a plunger. Using modelling software, a plunger and well bore were simulated. The plunger was moved past a given point to see the amount of disruption we could expect. There was enough confidence gained that we decided to move ahead to design.
For Cyclops, we went through several different prototypes. Each time we found something that could be improved, so we would modify the design, then create a new prototype. Prototyping can overlap with design, but also with testing to create an iterative process.
Cyclops went through several rounds of testing at many different stages in the development cycle, which is one of the biggest reasons it is leading the market today. Before we put a single sensor in the field, we ran tens of plunger types thousands of times. Besides plunger type, we tested different mounting locations, materials, speeds, orientations, sensitivities, voltages and much more.
The Cyclops is certified as Class I, Zone 0 (the most up to date standard available) which means it is certified to be installed in the most hazardous of locations. During the design, our engineers had to ensure that components were spaced appropriately, voltage/current/capacitance was minimized, the product did not heat up and there was no possibility of arcing from the electronics to the enclosure. On top of all of this, we still had to encapsulate the design in a potting material.
Even though the Cyclops field trial was a great success, we still found that we needed to adjust the default sensitivity level and move the connector to a more convenient location.
With the Cyclops we typically build 1,000 sensors at a time and every single sensor is tested to ensure that our customers never receive defective product. We work with a manufacturing partner to help manage the supply chain and production process so that we can concentrate on all the other phases of the process.
With the Cyclops, we’ve continued to enhance every area of the product. We recently replaced the magnetometer to another more sensitive and readily available part, increased the depth of the enclosure to make it easier to install and added software to refresh the sensitivity for sensors that are powered for a long duration of time. All of these things are part of normal maintenance and have allowed us to continue to improve and manufacture the best plunger sensor on the market.